Motivation Monday: Your Past Exists to Guide You, Not Define You

It’s possible you had a past that is less than glamorous, that you’ve had things happen to you that hurt you deeply, things that you just want to forget.  You spend years of your adult life trying to forget it all, and maybe you succeed.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that trying to forget, remove, or replace an old experience is not the best course of action.  The best thing to do….

Is own it.

Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.

It can be painful to look back sometimes, to remember an embarrassing moment, a time when we felt awkward, or a situation where we made the wrong choice and ended up doing more damage.  Its normal to want to forget these moments, we all want to focus on the person we are now, the one who learned all the lessons, who’s stronger, smarter, happier.  But ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.  Once in awhile it creeps into your thoughts, plants a small seed of self-doubt, and tries to tell you that you aren’t as good as you think you are, you’re still just THAT person from before, nothing has changed.

So you fight back, you push it away, deeper, where it can’t reach you.  Or so you thought.

Sooner or later everything will come to the surface once again, even if it’s years down the road, because it’s part of you.  You can’t remove it, and you can’t ignore it forever.  As bad as that past event was, it defines the decisions you made and guides your path, whether you wanted it to or not.

But the secret to truly moving forward is not forgetting the past, it’s accepting it.  Accepting that it’s part of who you are, and although it happened, you’ve learned from it.  You have to use it as a reminder of the amazing person you are now, who vowed to not go through that again.

By accepting what has happened to you in the past, you remove its power over you, and you take control of it.  You become the powerful one, and you use your past as a reminder of how far you’ve come.  If you can do this, you will always embrace your past, and it will never control you again.

So how do we take control of our past?

Think of that one event, that one painful moment that is eating away at you, that is defining your present behaviour, that still has power over you.  Now write it down, word for word, and describe it as precisely as possible.  This may be painful, and it may elicit an emotional response.  Now say it out loud to an empty room.  Speak clearly and be thorough.  Realize that maybe it didn’t happen exactly as you thought, maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought.  Maybe the only one that was hurt was you.

This is how you gain power over your past.  Saying things out loud or writing them down takes the looping negative thought from your head and shows you that in the real world, you have the power.  It let’s you see the lesson in it, instead of focussing on the pain of it. This is why therapy can help immensely.  By expressing an event in reality, you have control over it, even for a second.

Suddenly, you can start to accept that your past is evidence that you are stronger, that you’ve changed for the better, and that you’ve grown into the amazing person you are today.  Once you do this, you will have control over your past, instead of it having control over you.  You’ll look back and see how far you’ve come, which will give you confidence.

This is not like turning on a light switch though.  Sometimes we have to come back to these moments from time to time and remind ourselves how far we’ve come.  Accepting your past is not easy, and it requires some risk, but its definitely much better than letting it slowly eat away at you.  If you are honest with yourself, and humble, and you know that everyone makes mistakes, maybe you can begin to give yourself a break, in the same way you’d give a break to a best friend.

Always remember to treat yourself as a friend.  Give yourself the room to be sad sometimes, to be weak and vulnerable sometimes, to not always be strong and confident.  Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and use them as a guide so that you can grow.

**Disclaimer:  I am not a therapist, psychologist, or a doctor.  Any advice I give is based on my own experience and personal education.  Please use this advice at your own risk.  Regardless of how you feel, there is always someone who can help you, whether its a friend, family member, or a professional. 

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